There aren’t many insects as captivating as the hefty, fuzzy bumblebee. Honeybees get all the pollinator attention, but bumblebees are an excellent alternative or a supplemental pollination source of many crops.
Elaine Evans is an Extension educator at the University of Minnesota. She says on a bee-to-bee basis, bumblebees are more efficient than honeybees and aren’t as picky about their foraging conditions.
"They’re bigger and fuzzier, they can collect more pollen on their bodies, so more pollen gets moved to other flowers. Bumblebees also are more tolerant of bad weather, whereas honeybees are a little bit more picky about when they’ll go out," says Evans. "They also have a really long foraging day. So pretty much from the time that the sun comes up till after the sun sets they’re still out until it gets too dark."
Evans says bumblebees have evolved alongside flowering plants and have developed interdependent relationships with many of these plants. They especially excel at pollinating tomatoes, blueberries, squash and pumpkins because of a behavior called “buzz pollination.”
"There’s some flowers where the pollen is kind of stuck in the anthers. Some bees will go in and grab that anther and shake the pollen off, and that’s what those flowers need to get better pollination," she says. "Honeybees don’t do that, bumblebees do."
Bumblebees get all their nutrition from flowers, so plant flowers, trees, and shrubs to provide a constant source of blooms from early spring to fall. Encourage nesting potential by leaving some areas of un-mown grass and untilled areas. Bumblebees prefer to nest in clumps of grass above ground or in holes below ground.
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